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Cigarettes (Arsenic Content)

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 27 March 1952

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asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that the arsenic content of English cigarettes has been found to range twice as high as that of American cigarettes and 25 times as high as that of Turkish and Rhodesian cigarettes; and whether, in view of the fact that there are grounds for the belief that this arsenic content may be the cause of the increasing incidence of cancer of the lung, he will take steps to regulate the entry into the country of tobacco having an unnecessarily high arsenic content.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health
(Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

My right hon. Friend is aware that a small-scale study showed these proportions, but I understand the amounts were very small and varied widely in the same types of cigarettes. Also my right hon. Friend is advised that arsenic in tobacco smoke is not established as a likely cause of cancer of the lung, and that the great bulk of the tobacco used in British cigarettes comes from the countries mentioned in the Question.

Is my hon. Friend aware that arsenic is regarded by those who have studied this subject as being contributory to cancer, and that this content of arsenic in American tobacco arises from the use of arsenic sprays in that country unnecessarily? In refusing to take the action for which I have asked, does she realise that she and the Minister are hazarding the lives of the citizens of this country?

Taking the best evidence available to the Department, I can assure my hon. Friend that international lung cancer statistics give no indication that arsenic in cigarettes causes cancer, although one Turkish hospital has reported a high incidence of lung cancer.

Is it not true that the Medical Research Council is considering this matter?

Will the hon. Lady represent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the increased use of Rhodesian and Greek tobacco would make a major contribution to curing the economic cancer of our dollar deficiency in our balance of payments?